Last week I wrote an introduction to this new series about utilising children’s books to support difficult conversations – if you missed it you can catch up here. This week I’m delighted to bring my first guest post of the series to you, courtesy of my lovely friend Sarah, from Arthurwears. Here she is discussing The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson, one of the best children’s books about loss:
One of the Best Children’s Books About Loss
Sarah is an EYFS Primary school Teacher, Blogger and mum of two to Arthur and Charlotte. You can find her over at Arthurwears, a child development and family lifestyle blog, sharing her favourite tried and tested ‘Learning Through Play’ activities; thoughts and advice on parent and child wellbeing; and Lifestyle recommendations for busy families. [This posts contains affiliate links.]
Teaching young children about loss can be tricky – it is quite an abstract concept to explain to small children, especially in light of the fact that so many of us have different beliefs about what happens when we die. At an age where little ones are still developing an ability to recognise and deal with their own feelings and emotions, this is definitely an area where they will need a little bit of help to process and explore what it means to lose something or someone special.
Using a picture book with a simple narrative is a great starting point in helping children to understand and cope with loss.
There are lots of lovely books available which touch on the subject, but one of my favourites is The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson.
The book follows the story of a little girl who makes a chain of paper dolls with her mother and she takes them on different adventures. The dolls are all individually named with a description which allows for a lovely little bit of rhyme and alliteration within the repeated refrain.
The key message from the paper dolls throughout, which the children are able to join in with, is “we’re holding hands and we won’t let go”.
One day, a boy snips the paper dolls into tiny pieces claiming that they are “gone forever” – but instead, they maintain their message of not letting go and they fly into the girl’s memory. The paper dolls join lots of other ‘lost’ items in the little girl’s memory, including “a kind granny”, and the story continues as the girl grows and then makes a chain of paper dolls with her own daughter.
The story itself is very subtle and open ended in terms of the message you are trying to convey and the direction you wish to take your conversation and discussion afterwards. It is a lovely introduction to loss and memories and the idea of people living on in our minds – introducing the idea that even though you are gone you can still remember the good times, helping children to cope with loss by focusing on sharing memories of their loved ones.
In explaining the nature of human life and the life cycle within, this book also helps children to consider the idea of life continuing, in spite of loss, along with the memories which live on.
The book is a safe read for young children as the narrative explores death in a very soft and subtle way, with the grandma within the girl’s memory, and instead focuses on the feelings surrounding loss – hopefully helping children to open up about their own experiences.
There are a number of talking points which this story can help to aid in discussions with children:
- The idea of ‘sticking together’ and holding hands to get through difficult times, just like the paper dolls.
- The idea that as long as you keep hold of memories in your mind and heart you will never truly lose them.
- The idea of life going full circle and the passing of time with the girl growing and losing things, but the memories live on.
- The idea of the key message “we’re holding hands and we wont let go”, despite being physically separated still remained true.
- The idea that no matter how or where we lose something or someone, or what we believe personally, they always live on in our minds.
Making a chain of paper dolls, perhaps of people or things which have been lost or they don’t see anymore, as a focused activity with the children will also help to aid a discussion around feelings and memories and also deliver an insight into how the child is thinking, feeling and understanding the idea of loss.
If you know of a child or group of children who are struggling to come to terms with loss, please get in touch with the charity Winston’s Wish, who offer advice, support and resources.
A Guest Post about one of the best children’s books about loss, by Sarah, from Arthurwears. Never without an emergency stash of dark chocolate (or a small child to share it with) you can follow Sarah’s sleep-deprived updates on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.
Check out more book reviews and recommendation in this series in the Moral Story Books for Children Index.